Aug 23rd 2021

What MWC Barcelona has taught us about the future of trade shows

Yes, it was four months late and it was a scaled down and a hybrid event, but MWC actually happened in June; a huge triumph for the GSMA and a big positive for the telecoms and events industry. Reflecting on the show, here are four things MWC Barcelona has taught us about the future of trade shows and the impact on PR:

  1. We have a blueprint for event growth

With meticulous planning, rigorous health and safety checks, commitment from exhibitors, and a high level of judiciousness on behalf of the attendees, MWC showed that the trade show industry can work effectively and safely. The doubters were, by and large, put to bed, and more importantly it has created a blueprint for how large trade shows can succeed in the pandemic era.

MWC Barcelona was the biggest tech trade show to happen to date since the onset of the pandemic. Approximately 20,000 people attended, representing 165 countries, albeit with the majority of people from Spain. As travel corridors open again and confidence is instilled in the safety of large events, we will only see them getting bigger. My estimation is that MWC 2022, which is only six months away, may see approximately half of its usual 100,000 plus attendees. Events in places across the globe, such as China, where COVID cases are low, may see crowd sizes close to a pre-COVID world. It’s a welcoming prospect.

  1. The hybrid elements of the event weren’t ideal for the media

With the ongoing travel restrictions and requirement for self-isolating after returning from Spain in many countries, it was no surprise that the turnout of media at MWC was low. Most journalists we know decided to report from the show from the comfort of their homes or offices. The GSMA was of course aware that this would happen, and put on a hybrid event for those people unable to travel to Barcelona. There’s no doubt that the hybrid element of the event was a success – for some at least. One hundred thousand virtual daily viewers tuned into the event for the keynotes, conferences and other major activities.

However, for the media specifically, the virtual event could not deliver in the same way as the live event – after all, journalists have traditionally relied on gathering unique insight and breaking news live from the show floor. I spoke to a telecoms journalist at Reuters recently, who was unable to attend MWC in Barcelona. He told me that he did watch some of the major keynotes virtually, however, he didn’t get enough ‘exclusive information’ to cover the stories. During a normal MWC he would have had the opportunity to ask questions of company executives in order to get a unique view on stories he’d want to cover. There was no clear opportunity that he could find for that at this year’s virtual show, and as result, he barely wrote about any news coming from MWC. Furthermore, he said there were some virtual events that wanted to go to, but couldn’t work out how to access.

It’s clear that journalists need to speak to executives and be at the heart of the event in order to produce new stories. For many, that wasn’t possible this year. Events may need to think of other ways that they can bring journalists closer to the companies and the big stories, if they want to offer a hybrid model that still creates a melting pot for news.

  1. Media welcomed the return of the live show

However, it’s no surprise really that the media that could attend MWC this year, very much enjoyed the experience of being back in the thick of the action. Sean Kinney at RCR Wireless, who managed to make it across from the US, couldn’t hide his pleasure at being back at the show. In an article he posted at the show, he reflected on the “immense joy” of being able to make connections, understand announcements and stories or technological breakthroughs. He even made a shout out to Babel in his article, as some of our team had the pleasure of working with him at the show.

There’s no doubt that journalists want to be at these major trade events. Those that didn’t attend MWC will have missed out on the chance to catch up with major executives, meet new companies and experience the buzz of diverse innovation that only a trade show can offer. Knowing what they missed this year, I’m sure a lot of telecoms journalists will already be making plans for MWC 2022.

  1. A change of the guards may be afoot

MWC had a bit of a different flavour this year. Many of the big companies that are a mainstay at the show decided to stay away, including Nokia, Google, Oracle, Ericsson and BT. What this did provide was a platform for some of the smaller and lesser-known companies to make their mark. One of those companies was TelcoDR, a Babel client, who created CLOUD CITY, the biggest exhibitor space at the show, dedicated to showcasing the power of the public cloud.

The public cloud and the impact that cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc. can have on the telecoms industry was not a topic that was high on the agenda for the show before TelcoDR decided it was going to join the party in May. However, from the opening the show, TelcoDR and CLOUD CITY helped to refocus the entire narrative of the event towards a telco trends that’s rapidly gaining momentum.

TelcoDR’s CLOUD CITY was undoubtedly the busiest area at MWC this year. It shared floorspace with a number of innovative start-ups, and even hosted Bon Jovi to entertain the crowds. Reuters was fast to pick up on this change, as was Japanese national, Nikkei, along with much of the key telecoms trade press. Some of the companies that didn’t attend the show may now be doubling down their plans for next year, knowing that the spotlight can and will move on to other companies if they do not show face.

At Babel, we understand the importance of major trade shows and how they can help define the roadmaps for telco brands and the wider industry. It’s why, when we can, we send a team to the big trade shows, to support our clients, to live and breathe the news and to make new acquittances. If you need support for MWC 2022, planning, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 


Paul Campbell
Paul Campbell DIRECTOR